Medical Student Tips: Prepare to Ace Your USMLE Step 1 Exam

What Are The Boards?

The US Medical Boards is said to be one of the most challenging exams you’ll take as a med school student. You need effective prep if you want to ace your USMLE Step 1 exam, which covers topics related to basic sciences.

Also known as The Boards, the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 1 is the first of a series of tests required to practice medicine in America. This is an 8-hour exam that takes place in one day. It’s administered in seven 60-minute blocks. You’re granted one hour in total for breaks.

Being prepared for this US medical licensing exam is vital for all aspiring physicians. Understanding what’s on this exam helps you prepare for it. It’s complex and covers the following basic science subjects:

  • Anatomy
  • Behavioral sciences
  • Biochemistry
  • Biostatistics and epidemiology
  • Microbiology
  • Pathology
  • Pharmacology
  • Physiology
  • Genetics
  • Aging
  • Immunology
  • Nutrition
  • Molecular and cell biology

When to Take the USMLE Step 1

Med school graduates advise studying for Step 1 at least 2-3 months in advance. Spend 2-3 months studying full-time (if possible) so you’re prepared for The Boards.

When should you take this US medical licensing exam? As soon as you’ve completed your basic sciences courses, schedule your test date for 2-3 months out and start your test prep immediately.

This is generally some time during your 2nd year in medical school. However, if your med school incorporates clinical experience with your basic science studies, you may be ready by the end of your 1st year as a med student.

6 Study Strategies to Help You Ace Your USMLE Step 1 Exam

Truthfully, it’s wise to start prepping for The Boards on the day you become a med school student. As you study a subject, use board books to help you get advanced knowledge in that area.

Once medical school graduate says when her instructor got into microbiology, she also reviewed “Clinical Microbiology Made Ridiculously Simple.”

Here are a few more strategies to help you study for your USMLE Step 1:

1. FIRST STEP: Create a Study Schedule

Before you do anything, create a study schedule to help you stay on track. It’s easy to get distracted or overwork yourself if you don’t have an effective study schedule in place.

Include the times you plan to start and stop each day. Be sure you include breaks and lunchtimes. Add times for taking practice tests and mock exams as well.

If your schedule isn’t working for you, tweak it, change it, trash it and start over. Do what you need to do. But always have a schedule.

2. Start Taking Practice Tests Immediately

If you’ve already taken pre-med courses, take a few practice tests before the first day of med school. That way, you already know what you need to work harder on before school even starts.

However,  if you no pre-med studies under your belt, it’s okay to wait a week or two after starting medical school. Either way, start taking USMLE Step 1 practice tests online early in your studies.

Keep a digital study diary that tracks the questions you get wrong. As you get to those areas within your medical courses, go to your digital study diary and note where you need help most.

 3. Keep Taking Full-Length Practice Tests

Don’t just take practice tests in the beginning. Take them regularly. Try to take at least 5 practice tests each week. Start with the shorter ones, then move on to the full-length USMLE Step 1 practice exams.

Take as many timed full-length versions as you can. This not only helps your memory and knowledge, but it also helps you prepare to complete Step 1 within 60 minutes (time allotted).

4. Concentrate on What You DON’T Know

Don’t spend a lot of time on areas where you’re already confident. Use your study digital study diary to go back weekly and see where you need work. Spend time focusing on those areas until you’ve mastered them as well.

Then, take more USMLE Step 1 full-length timed practice tests. In your study digital study diary, mark off what you now know, and add to it the things you need to work on more.

5. Use Mnemonics Wherever Needed

If you have a photographic memory, you don’t need this tip. You should ace your USMLE Step 1 exam!

However, if you’re like most people, it takes little tricks to help you memorize people, places, and things sometimes.

Mnemonics help you remember lists of things by creating codes using the first letter of each word in the list. Watch the video below to learn more.

6. Take Care of Yourself

Your brain works at full capacity when you’re well-rested, nourished, and hydrated. So, make sure your study schedule includes breaks. This is very important because you don’t want to burn out before exam day.

Also, get outside and get some exercise during your breaks. Take a walk. Ride a bike. Do something other than study during your breaks.

6 Test-Taking Strategies to Help You Ace Your USMLE Step 1 Exam

Okay. Test day is finally here! Don’t let those butterflies in your stomach make you uncomfortable. You’ve studied, taken, and passed USMLE Step 1 practice tests. Don’t worry. You’re well-prepared.

Now, here are some test-taking strategies to help you get an awesome score on Step 1:

1. Pack the Night Before

Yes, pack! Treat this like you’re going on a trip… this is the next leg on your flight toward your dreams of becoming a doctor.

The night before your USMLE Step 1 exam, make sure to pack a bag or backpack with the following items in it:

  • Valid picture ID or driver’s license
  • A printed copy of your scheduling permit
  • Snacks
  • Lunch
  • Water
  • Earplugs

2. Create a Break Plan

Before test day, create a plan for your breaks. Remember, this is an 8-hour exam, broken up into seven blocks. You have one hour in total for your breaks. Spread them out in a manner that works best for you.

Just create your break plan before the day of your test. Here are some examples to help:

Break Plan Example 1

  • Finish 2 blocks
  • Take 10-minute break
  • Finish 2 blocks
  • Take 30-minute lunch
  • Complete 2 blocks
  • Take 10-minute break
  • Finish the last block

Break Schedule Example 2

  • Finish 3 blocks
  • Take 30-minute break
  • Finish 3 blocks
  • Take 30-minute break
  • Finish the last block

Break Schedule Example 3

  • Finish 4 blocks
  • Take 1-hour lunch
  • Finish last 3 blocks

3. Arrive Early

Google Maps the address to the USMLE test site one week before your test… to the day.  Try to do it about an hour or two before your scheduled test time.

For example:

  • Let’s say you’re scheduled to take The Boards on Friday, May 17th at 8:00 AM
  • Google Map the directions on Friday, May 10th at about 6:00 AM

Be sure you’re getting directions from the same place you’ll be departing from on test day. This allows you to get a real-time estimate of how long it takes to get to the test site, including normal traffic conditions for that day and time.

Plan to arrive at the test site 30-45 minutes early. Be sure to plan for emergencies, such as a wreck on the freeway.

4. Answer Easy Questions First

Don’t allow yourself to get stuck on any question for too long. Remember, this is a timed test. There are only 60 minutes allowed for each block.

You could answer another 5… 10 questions you do know the answers to in the time you take stressing over just one you don’t. Just don’t spend too much time on any one question.

So, leave the hard ones for last. Then, go back and tackle them one by one before “END” on each block. Once you hit END, you can’t go back and review your answers or make any changes to that block.

5. Answer ALL Questions

Wrong answers don’t count against you on the Step 1 exam. However, correct answers work in your favor.

Therefore, make sure you answer every single question on the test, even if you have to guess at a few. Wrong answers won’t help. But you just may guess the right answers on some and that will definitely help your USMLE Step 1 score.

REMEMBER: Go through and answer the ones you DO know first. Save the harder ones for last. If the 60-minute clock starts winding down, go ahead and guess before your time runs out.

Review all your answers in each block before hitting END. Do NOT leave ANY questions unanswered. Remember, once you END a block, it’s too late to go back. So, answer every question in the block before clicking END.

6. Focus on the Block at Hand

The USMLE Step 1 is administered in seven blocks, each block consisting of no more than 40 multiple-choice, computer-generated questions. As you take your exam, only focus on the block you are currently in at the time. Don’t stress about the previous blog or anticipate the next one.

Focus solely on that one block. Finish it. Take a few seconds to clear your thoughts. Then, go on to the next block until all seven are complete.

The Life of a Medical Student: 10 Things Only You Understand

Ace Your USMLE Step 1 Exam with These Test Prep Resources

There are numerous resources that help medical students pass Step 1. Here are some effective tools to help you get a good score on The Boards:

1. USMLE Step 1 Practice Tests

Also known as question banks, USMLE Step 1 practice tests are great resources when preparing to take The Boards. You’ll find hundreds of questions online in short and full-length tests that are both untimed and timed. Just Google ‘USMLE Step 1 Question Banks.”

2. USMLE Step 1 Test Prep Courses

Test-prep courses offer structured classroom lectures and preparation materials to help you ace your USMLE Step 1 exam. Interact with other medical students while learning from industry professionals. Review everything you need to know about basic sciences to get a good score on your exam in a clinical-like environment.

3. USMLE Step 1 One-on-One Tutoring

There are local companies in your area that specialize in 1:1 USMLE Step 1 tutoring services. Learn from a licensed instructor at a clinical-life facility in live tutoring sessions.

Many companies also offer 1:1 online USMLE Step 1 tutoring. You still learn from licensed professionals. However, tutoring takes place online in live, face-to-face video conferencing sessions. See MedSmarter Step 1 Tutoring.

Get USMLE Test Prep in Suwanee, GA

MedSmarter provides USMLE test prep services on the Suwanee campus, less than 30 miles north of Atlanta, Georgia. Get tutoring, one-on-way via video conferencing or on campus in a clinical-like environment. Learn from board-certified licensed physicians who know how to pass Step 1.

If you’re in the Atlanta area, MedSmarter’s test prep course is the best way to ace your USMLE Step 1 exam. Learn in-person in very small class sizes. Review everything you need to know to get a good score on The Boards from licensed physicians holding MDs and PhDs.

Click the link below to learn more about Step 1 test prep in the Atlanta area.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top